NEW ORLEANS - Since April, walking into 701 Loyola Ave. as a sexual assault victim has been an entirely new experience, starting with the fact that the New Orleans Family Justice Center is now literally down the hall from NOPD's Special Victims Section.
At the same time, statistics show the number of rape victims has soared 61 percent this year, averaging one assault a day. Many of those involve known attackers.
"People taking advantage of individuals who can't necessarily take care of themselves. In the cases of a kid, it's a young kid being persuaded by an older adult to do something that the adult says it's OK," said Lt. Jenerio Sanders, commander of NOPD's Special Victims Section. "In the cases of an adult, female or male, quite often it's somebody taking advantage of them sometimes through alcohol, other times through drugs.
But police and advocates don't believe the increase is due to more sexual predators lurking. They say it's because more crimes are being brought to light.
"They believe that they are being believed that this is not something that they're making up or that they're lying about. I think the response has been better because of the training that we've done," said Mary Claire Landry with New Orleans Family Justice Center.
The training is part of overall reforms in the Special Victims Section that have also brought in more detectives, more resources and more connections with victim support systems.
"We know that the more reforms we make, the more reporting will increase, so it creates this strange counter-intuitive dynamic where doing better work actually means more victims trust you and they're going to report," said Tania Tetlow, chair of the Sex Crimes Reform Advisory Committee.
Police say they're ready to capitalize on the swing in confidence. And as New Orleans fills with heavily-attended end-of-summer events, people of all ages and backgrounds are urged to have fun but keep safety a focus. And if a sexual assault does happen, seek help and justice.
With the new partnerships, victims are able to report crimes through different avenues other than just police. Any of the below agencies can help:
New Orleans Family Justice Center: 504-866-9554
New Orleans Sexual Assault Response Team: www.nolasart.org
New Orleans Coroner's Office, Sexual Assault Services Division: 504-658-9660
Metropolitan Center for Women and Children: 504-837-5400
New Orleans Children's Advocacy Center: 504-894-5484
New Orleans Police Department: 911